Wave of Violence Leaves 27 Dead

Published June 12, 2003

| FoxNews.com

Violence continues to plague the Mideast, as 27 were killed in Jerusalem (searchand Gaza (search) after Israel responded to Wednesday's homicide bombing with another round of missile strikes targeting the Islamic militant group Hamas (search).

The early morning bus bombing in Jerusalem -- in which a Palestinian teenager disguised as an Orthodox Jew blew himself up -- killed 16 and injured 70 others, making it the bloodiest homicide attack since a January bombing that killed 23 in Tel Aviv. Israeli helicopters then struck a car in Gaza City with missiles early Thursday, killing two men and a bystander hours after an earlier airstrike killed seven.

Four of the dead were members of Hamas, which claimed responsibility for the deadly Jerusalem attack.

President Bush urged nations to cut off funding for terrorists trying to stymie efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The familiar pattern of attack and retaliation wrested attention from the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, designed to end 32 months of violence and solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict with a formula of two states living side by side in peace.

President Bush, who just a week ago launched the plan and now was watching its chances of success diminish by the hour, angrily condemned the bus bombing.

He urged all nations "to fight off terror, to cut off money to organizations such as Hamas, to isolate those who hate so much that they're willing to kill to stop peace from going forward." The State Department has designated Hamas a terror group.

A day earlier, Bush had scolded Israel for a missile strike in Gaza that wounded Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a political leader of Hamas.

Among those wounded in the attack was Sarri Singer, 30, the daughter of Robert Singer, a Republican state senator in New Jersey. She said she had just taken a seat on the packed bus when the explosion ripped through it.

"It was, like, a very strong blast and the next thing I know people are pulling me out of the bus," she told Israel Radio. "I have a fracture in my shoulder, other than that, thank God, I'm happy to be alive."

Natan Sharansky, Israel's minister for Jerusalem affairs, stood next to the bus ruins shaking his head.

"My daughter rides that bus, so immediately you start checking where your family is and getting irritated because one doesn't know where the other is and none of the phones work," he said.

Palestinians identified the attacker as Abdel Madi Shabneh, 18, a high school student from Hebron.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, shunted aside in recent weeks in a U.S. peace effort, moved back to center stage, summoning reporters and reading a tough statement calling on all Palestinian factions to cease fire, condemning the attacks in both Jerusalem and Gaza and pleading for international intervention to rescue the road map plan.

Arafat said the factions must "put the Palestinian national interest as a first priority and not to give Israel a chance to drag us into destroying the peace process."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that though he is committed to a diplomatic process leading to peace, his army would pursue violent Palestinian groups "to the bitter end."

Left behind was Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, promoted by Israel and the U.S. as a replacement for Arafat. His position has been badly weakened by the spiraling violence, burying his efforts to persuade Palestinian militants to halt attacks against Israelis instead of ordering a crackdown.

Abbas issued a statement appealing for "a full commitment from all parties to a cease-fire, to stop violence and to immediately move into a serious implementation of road map." Rantisi rejected the truce call.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called high-level consultations late Wednesday, and Israel Radio reported afterward that the focus of Israel's battle would be the infrastructure of Hamas.

Within minutes, Israeli helicopters struck Gaza City for the second time in six hours. Just after midnight, the Israeli gunships fired missiles at a car, killing two men inside.

They were identified as low-level Hamas activists, ages 22 and 24, from a unit that guards city streets. The Israeli military said the target was a cell of Palestinians that was about to fire a mortar shell at the nearby Netzarim settlement. A 55-year-old bystander wounded in the attack died in a hospital several hours later, doctors said.

Earlier, Israeli helicopters fired missiles at a car in Gaza City, killing two Hamas commanders, Tito Massoud, 35, and Soheil Abu Nahel, 29. The missiles turned the car into a burning ball of wreckage.

Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, said a total of seven people were killed and 30 wounded. Among the wounded were eight children under the age of 14.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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